Black Sea

Austria's Christian Fennesz has ascended to the summit of the ever-growing "stoic guy with guitar and laptop" heap through eight solo albums, the "Fenn O'Berg" collabs with Jim O'Rourke and Peter Rehberg, and releases with Ryuichi Sakamoto and David Sylvian. Fennesz's early Mego titles privileged glitch and granulated static, but still extracted a striated beauty from the audio detritus that most engineers reflexively delete. Beginning with 2001's Endless Summer, though, Fennesz lessened the harshness of his music—which often carried the tumultuous clangor of early Cluster—and stressed a kind of attenuated melodic grandeur, like some binary-code Beach Boys (whose "Don't Talk" he's covered, very obliquely). Black Sea represents Fennesz's ultimate refinement of his beauty-amid-noise MO. On excellent tracks like "Glide" (featuring New Zealand drone-meister Rosy Parlane), Fennesz creates the wonderful illusion of hearing a minimalist symphony being played on a between-stations radio in the distance. The extra effort needed to discern the melodic contours on Black Sea is worth it, and in fact adds to the overall pleasure. Implication trumps provocation on one of the year's best albums without a single beat on it. recommended